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Dr. Desmond Turner: I have great sympathy for both amendments, which effectively state the same thing. It is unfortunate that they apply to a clause that is about to disappear. However, the strong point on which there is cross-party agreement is that there should be a level playing field for the standards to which landlords, be they public or private, are expected to conform. I hope that the Minister will address that.

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Mr. Baron: To reinforce the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, I bring to the Committee's attention the preliminary results in the report on the survey of English housing. They showed that greater dissatisfaction existed among RSL tenants as regards the state of their accommodation than among those in the private rented sector. That reinforces the need for amendments Nos. 47 and 50, despite the fact that the clause is about to disappear.

Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, there is an anomaly, it should be corrected and I hope that we will have an opportunity to do just that.

Mr. Sayeed: Previously in Committee, I asked the Minister to confirm that the burdens that would be placed on RSLs would be no less onerous than those placed by the Bill on landlords who are letting HMOs. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk stated that the provisions of the Bill should apply to every landlord equally. That would be preferable, providing that the requirements on an RSL are not more onerous than those on a landlord of an HMO. If those requirements are not more onerous, and bearing in mind that RSLs deal particularly with the most disadvantaged people, it would be better if RSLs came within the ambit of the Bill.

The Bill would set up a HECA—Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—officer in every local authority. A HECA officer would be extremely useful to those who live in RSLs. The Bill would set up a system to invigilate, organise and ensure that there are common reporting procedures. The more widely one uses the same system, the more efficient it tends to be. There would need to be particularly compelling reasons, and not just that that is the way in which it has been done before, to persuade me that RSLs should not be under the ambit of the Bill.

As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South has acknowledged, I recognise that this is like talking about a black hole or dead star. The star has almost gone, and it will go in the next few minutes. We require confirmation from the Minister that if the requirements placed on RSLs were no less than the requirements in the Bill, and that they were to be as well invigilated, he would give favourable consideration to ensuring that RSLs were part of the Bill.

Mr. Meacher: There is clearly cross-party agreement that we should have a look at that issue. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South Norfolk seeks to bring back into the mandatory registration scheme properties owned by RSLs and local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South also seeks to include RSLs within the regime. I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown is a convert to that. I recall that on Second Reading he neatly summarised the case for not including such properties. The argument, which is valid so he need not be embarrassed, is that as public sector bodies are under a degree of control—for example, by the housing corporation in the case of RSLs—they are required to meet certain conditions. It would be odd or perverse if local authorities, which are

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responsible for enforcing the regime, were included within its scope. I understand the argument and accept the principle that the standards expected of private landlords should apply in the public sector, and the disciplines in the public sector should ensure that that is so. However, there are cases in which that does not happen and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South quoted one. I hope that the Committee will accept that when I say that we are prepared to reconsider the case for not exempting RSLs, that is a matter for secondary legislation.

I understand the arguments concerning local authorities, but there are fundamental difficulties in applying to them a registration scheme that cannot be resolved in time to be included in the Bill. I take note, as will those in the DTLR who will read our debate, of the widespread feeling about that. We shall look again at the question concerning RSLs and if we decide to move, it will be in secondary legislation.

I am grateful for the debate

Mr. Bacon: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Meacher: I am about to finish, so if the hon. Gentleman wants to say something, he had better be quick.

Mr. Bacon: Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify his point about secondary legislation? Is he saying that the Bill will include the sentence about registered social landlords not being registrable in any event but that he will then negate it in secondary legislation?

Mr. Meacher: If we decided after reconsideration that RSLs should be included on the same principle as private landlords and if we thought it appropriate to put that in secondary legislation, we would have to make changes consistent with that on Report.

Mr. Bacon: On the basis of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Meacher: It might be appropriate to explain why we feel that clause 8 should not stand part of the Bill. Government new clauses 2 and 7 replace sections 346 and 345 of the Housing Act 1985. Under those new clauses, the Secretary of State would be able to prescribe what is an HMO, while allowing local authorities to enjoy their existing discretion to introduce legislation concerning only smaller HMOs. We might repent at leisure if the Bill is unduly prescriptive in describing properties that are HMOs. There is much dissatisfaction with existing descriptions, so we should not hastily prescribe in primary legislation what can be left to a statutory instrument. That is why I move that the clause does not stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Simpson: To tidy up matters, I wish to clarify that I shall not press amendment No. 50 to a Division. I do not know whether I should beg to ask leave to withdraw it.

The Chairman: That is not necessary.

Question put and negatived.

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Clause 9

Expenses

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Meacher: Perhaps I can help the Committee by saying that we have estimated that the new burden on local authorities of the implementation of the HMO registration provisions of the Bill will be about £13 million, based on an estimated 120,000 HMOs in England. Up to 5,000 HMOs in Wales will be covered and we have estimated that the comparative costs in the Principality will be about £500,000 to £700,000. Those figures follow from our detailed discussions with the Local Government Association about the likely cost of our proposals for implementing a mandatory licensing scheme of HMOs in England and Wales.

8 pm

Mr. Sayeed: I am glad to support the measure, as I was when we discussed the money resolution on the Floor of the House. We have seen how in Scotland, because money had not been put up front, the costs to landlords have been extraordinarily high—if not extortionate. Such clarification is extremely helpful. I hope that the Minister can confirm that if the Government's estimate is found to be incorrect, either by virtue of it being too small or too great, they will fund the difference if it were greater or claw back if it were not.

Mr. Meacher: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman made a rhetorical point. I hear what he says and those who will have responsibility in such matters will, I am sure, also take note.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10

Short title, commencement and extent

Mr. Meacher: I beg to move amendment No. 56, in page 5, line 12, at end insert—

    '( ) Section 1 comes into force at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: Amendment No. 42, in page 5, line 13, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    '( ) The following provisions come into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—

    (a) section (Registration schemes),

    (b) section (Model schemes and confirmation of schemes),

    (c) section (Wales), so far as relating to any power to make regulations conferred by either of those sections.

    ( ) Otherwise, this Act shall come into force on such day as the appropriate Minister may by order made by statutory instrument appoint; and different days may be appointed for different purposes.

    ( ) The appropriate Minister may by order made by statutory instrument make such transitional provisions and savings as he considers appropriate in connection with the coming into force of any provision of this Act.

    ( ) In this Act ''the appropriate Minister'' means—

    (a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State,

    (b) in relation to Wales, the National Assembly for Wales.'.

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New clause 5—Wales—

    '(1) The reference to the Housing Act 1985 in Schedule 1 to the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999 (S.I. 1999/ 672) is to be treated as referring to that Act as amended by this Act.

    (2) Subsection (1) does not affect the power to make further Orders varying or omitting that reference.'.

Mr. Meacher: Amendment No. 56 brings the provisions relating to energy conservation into effect automatically 12 months after Royal Assent. I am sure that members of the Committee agree that it is important to have a clear statement of when new legislation comes into effect; 12 months was the period originally suggested under the Bill, so I hope that the amendment will be acceptable.

Amendment No. 42 sets a two-month deadline for commencement in place of the 12-month deadline. That is the shortest period that is usually allowed for commencement. Having regard to new clause 2, local authorities will then have up to a year in which to have a registration scheme up and running and a further year in which to set in hand the application of control provisions and setting conditions for HMOs. The requirement to introduce registration with control provisions will take effect automatically after two years and compliance will be required with a model scheme issued by the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly. There will be no need for the making of an order as envisaged under clause 7.

New clause 5 is a technical provision, reflecting the fact that many powers of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been devolved and are exercisable by the Welsh Assembly.

 
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